story and illustration by Paula
Author’s Note: Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Linda S. Barth for her words of support, help, and editing my story and to Carole for believing in me.
* * *
Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
~ George Bernard Shaw
As he rested in the guest chamber, Devin could hear the distant sound of the subway passing by and the steady knocking on the pipes. The van ride from the Appalachian Mountains had been long, but he had needed time alone to deal with his thoughts … and now… the grief and anger that warred in his heart. Charles died and he couldn’t stay in their home. Two weeks of fighting the infection ended in defeat for this sensitive man.
Devin clenched his hands into fists. How can pneumonia end like this? He was so strong, but too weak to overcome the disease. Charles had experienced so little happiness in his life … but at least he spent this last time in peace and without humiliation.
A single tear rolled down his cheek when he remembered all the good that Charles had inside him. He was able to enjoy the smallest things, the singing of birds, flowers growing near their cabin, or the autumn leaves falling from the trees …
In this separate, magical world Devin could begin to heal. Recently he spent time in one place, in one job, and had used his own name. This constancy didn’t bother me at all. I took care of Charles and felt that what I was doing was right. My restless spirit of discovery had abandoned me. Now will it come back and push me to unknown places? Or will I remain myself in this city? Maybe I could try to find something permanent here? Finish some night school?
He shook his head with astonishment. I guess I’m more tired than I thought, but The Old Man would be proud of me. In his eyes, I started to be responsible; now he probably senses the temptation in me to see what is still unknown. He stared at the carved wall for a moment, wondering about himself, but his thoughts were interrupted by a call from the passageway.
“Devin, are you there?”
“Sure, Zach, what’s up?”
“I was Above, and on my way back I found this wallet. There’s no ID, but there are two tickets inside.”
Devin rubbed his tired eyes. “Tickets? Show me. Great – someone probably took the money but didn’t feel like any cultural entertainment. Thanks, I’ll think about how to use them.”
“Okay, I knew you would know what to do with them.”
“I’m glad that you thought of me.”
Zach nodded and quickly disappeared, leaving Devin an unexpected gift.
Two tickets to the Brooklyn Museum – Monet to Morisot. I heard about it. I think the exhibition is on until tomorrow. It would be a pity to waste them. If I suggested going out to Catherine, Vincent would just strangle me.
He laughed quietly. I won’t tease him. I’ve never seen him so happy. Think, Devin … hmm … maybe Jenny?… She might be interested. She is beautiful, intelligent, and always seems happy. I remember when we met for the first time. We had a nice conversation during Catherine and Vincent’s Joining Ceremony. I felt this attraction, but I was afraid. I was going back to the mountains with Charles, and besides, she is Catherine’s close friend. I couldn’t fail again, I had to leave it … and now?
He started circling the carpet. I don’t know if I should get involved in anything, but I’m sure I need to go Above for a moment. He sighed. It’s just the museum. I can ask Catherine for Jenny’s phone number.
Not wanting to waste time, he walked towards Catherine and Vincent’s chamber. In his haste he tripped over an unlit lantern, then noticed the abandoned tapestry. I didn’t expect they would be waiting for me with tea. He shook his head with a smile, but then a feeling of jealousy gently enveloped his heart. Damn! I envy them a little, but marriage? … Not now … and I don’t know if I ever will.
The restless, adventurous spirit began to awaken … images of the sun, lakes, mountains appeared before his eyes. Everything he had seen and experienced. Devin started breathing heavily. It’s never hot here … I just came back! And it’s already pulling me in the opposite direction.
He leaned against the wall resignedly. His thoughts were racing through him. Exhaustion … somnolence … He walked slowly back towards his chamber and with joy welcomed the warmth of Mary’s patchwork quilt … but anxiety did not allow him to rest.
I have traveled all over the world and performed many different professions. But the last months with Charles made me realize how precious life is, how lucky I am to be able to do, see, and feel so many things! I have a home and family where I can find peace and solace. It’s good that Charles could be free for a while. He looked at the sun, enjoyed nature and life without fear. I was happy for him … Now, I should know which path to choose. Should I change something … or run away again? So many places are waiting for me. I’m incredibly tempted by this. Everyone thinks that I will probably be stable now … yes, don’t disappoint them!
He covered his eyes with his hand … I should know what to do … With these thoughts he fell asleep, and despite the confusion in his heart, the night passed peacefully.
Devin woke up feeling exceptionally rested. “Damn! What time is it? Where’s my watch?” He started listening to the knocking on the pipes. “Breakfast – great! I’m hungry, so I need to get ready … Not good, I’m talking to myself!”
He quickly jumped out of bed, grabbed his clothes, and went to the nearest bathing chamber. There was no time to relax in the water. He was in a hurry to meet Catherine at breakfast. I hope The Old Man doesn’t see me running through the tunnels. He reached the dining chamber almost out of breath and noticed that Catherine and Vincent were not among those present. If I met them here, it would be too easy. He lowered his head and leaned against the wall to calm his breathing. He didn’t hide his slight disappointment.
Kanin noticed his confusion and gestured for Devin to sit next to him. “What worries you?” he asked curiously.
“The absence of our lovebirds.” Devin’s lips quivered with suppressed laughter.
Kanin snorted. “Man, it’s good to have you here! No one has ever called them anything like that! Unfortunately, Vincent took the breakfast tray to their chamber, and I don’t know how long it will take them, umm … to eat.”
Devin tried to keep a straight face, but his eyes sparkled with joy. “Kanin, how often does it happen?”
“When Catherine has a day off and on weekends. They spend a lot of time enjoying each other’s company.”
“Oh, so she’s staying here today. Good, so I’ll talk to her later.” There is always hope. His mood improved even more.
“Devin, do you have any problems?” Kanin asked with concern.
“No, Kanin, nothing that can’t wait until dinner. I don’t want to … disturb them,” he replied cheerfully.
Kanin smiled back and waggled his eyebrows.
William had been listening to their conversation and decided to interfere in their discussion. He walked up to them and patted their shoulders.
“We all are happy that they are together. Their love gives us wings.” He looked at them seriously. “And speaking of dinner, it’s high time I got down to it!” Following these words, he placed before them a plate of cinnamon rolls and walked briskly towards the kitchen.
There was nothing left for them to do but return calmly to their meal, but whenever they looked at each other, their faces lit up with smiles.
The noise of conversations about the needs of the community, the laughter of children who can’t wait for a new play to be performed. Mouse waving his hands, trying to explain something to a bewildered Jamie. Family. Closeness. Devin was surprised at how comfortable he felt here, and only yesterday he had been tormented by thoughts of escaping into the unknown. Now the feeling was gone and he remembered the two tickets left on the table … Maybe they are a chance for me. Nothing happens without a reason. Now it’s time to try again to get Jenny’s phone number.
Devin knew he didn’t have much time if he wanted to use the tickets. It was the last day of the exhibition. He thanked Kanin for the company and left him in private conversation with Olivia. Probably not something for his ears.
Walking down the corridor and lost in thought, he came close to colliding with Vincent. “Little brother, you almost knocked me out!”
“I’m sorry, but I think you were somewhere far away.”
They looked at each other equally surprised.
“Perhaps I was … Can I talk to your wife now? I’ve been trying to reach her since yesterday, but you were … umm … busy.” Devin smiled broadly.
Vincent tilted his head charmingly and with a twinkle in his eyes, said, “Even though we are married, our time together is still not enough. We celebrate every moment, the evenings are ours, and sometimes the mornings when Catherine has a day off.”
“It’s amazing how your life has changed.”
“Yes …” A wide smile lit up his face. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.” Gratitude and immense happiness danced in his heart.
“I think there’s still something that would complete you both.”
“Perhaps …With Catherine I started to believe that everything is possible, but there is a matter between us that remains an unresolved dream.” He looked ahead with pensive eyes.
“A serious conversation awaits you. I’ll give you one piece of advice: please don’t doubt your humanity.”
Vincent lowered his head. “I’m less worried about whether I can have children. My fear is that they will …”
“… look like you,” Devin finished and he placed hands on his brother’s shoulders. “I don’t think that will happen. You’re a human being with unique features, not necessarily hereditary. Don’t be afraid to make your next dream come true.”
After a while, Vincent sighed. “Thank you … it means a lot to me. I’m glad you’re here.”
They both found themselves in a brotherly embrace.
“I’m happy, too, although I don’t know how long I’ll stay … but please don’t hug me so hard. What I said about your humanity is all true.” Devin tried to hide his emotion.
“Yes, but this is the truth, that is hard for me to see.”
Devin patted him on the shoulder. “All right … and now if you’ll excuse me, I have business with your … Catherine.”
“Should I be concerned?” He looked at him, slightly worried.
“Take the tray back and don’t worry! I’m not always in trouble.”
A stone fell from their hearts and they both laughed. Brotherly understanding flowed between them, despite the many years spent apart.
Devin saw that he was forgiven. My escape and leaving Vincent behind – forgiven. My selfishness — forgiven. He felt grateful, but also had a strange feeling that he didn’t deserve any of this.
Catherine had started to make the bed and pick up the scattered clothes from the floor … clothes here … pillows there … A soft smile spread across her face as she remembered their last night…harmony, passion, unity – the flame of their moments together began to warm her heart. They couldn’t break away from each other…just a little more… one more kiss…
The memories were disturbed by the sound of footsteps outside the chamber.
“Catherine, may I come in?”
“Devin! Of course, you can.” Too late to hide this mess. “You’re always welcome here. Did you rest after the journey?”
Always polite, he thought. “Yes, thank you, I sleep like a baby here.” He bowed his head, smiling broadly.
“You sleep so well in a place where you feel at home.”
“It’s impossible not to agree with you … hmm … I’m here early,” his gaze darted around the floor, “because I have a small request for you. Zach found a wallet Above. Maybe it was a coincidence that it came to me, but inside I found two tickets to the Brooklyn Museum for the exhibition Monet to Morisot. I won’t take you away for fear of Vincent’s jealousy.” His eyes sparkled with amusement.
Catherine sensed the teasing in his words. She shook her head and smiled. “Keep talking …”
“I thought I could invite Jenny. The exhibition is on until today … it’s probably her thing. Could you give me her phone number?” Moment of truth. He held his breath.
Catherine wondered for a moment. “Devin, Jenny is my close friend.” She smiled gently. “I don’t want this situation to end in disappointment.”
“It’s just a trip to the museum.” Still thinks I’m untrustworthy. “I’ll behave myself.” He put his hand over his heart.
Catherine sensed his sincere intention. He looked so uncertain as he waited for her decision. In fact, she had seen his good heart even before he decided to take care of Charles. Immediately she remembered that Devin is nothing like Stephen to whom Jenny had given her phone number. I don’t think Jenny will blame me. She likes him very much. I just hope she won’t expect too much, because otherwise I’ll feel guilty. Still he can be trusted not to treat Jenny as short-lived fun.
Meanwhile, Devin glanced around the chamber. Bed in disarray, chaos on the carpet … Brother, nice!
“Devin, I trust you.” Her voice brought him out of his thoughts.
She wrote the phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to him with a friendly look, masking her slight concerns. “Have a good time together.”
“I will take good care of her, don’t worry. Now I won’t bother you any longer. I see you’re a little messy here … it must have been a nice night …”
She threw a pillow at him.
“Thanks for your trust.”
“You deserve it. I’m sorry for my earlier doubts.”
Devin shrugged and smiled. “You had the right to have doubts, and now, I should hurry up.” He ran out of the chamber before Catherine could say another word.
Trust, I needed that word. Even though I have betrayed everyone’s trust before, let them down, abandoned them … and now, after I took care of Charles, after I liberated him, I also regained something valuable.
Fear returned for a moment. Don’t make a mistake, don’t fail again, show that you’re still not selfish. He was so tempted to run away, then started thinking about Jenny. Is this a good decision? Maybe I should give the tickets to someone else. He sighed. But then I’d be admitting that nothing has changed for me. How does going to the museum turn into such a mess? Man! Get a grip!
The phone call with Jenny went smoothly. She was surprised by his invitation but gladly accepted. There was no turning back for him. He had to let go of his fears and trust his decisions. And he still needed time to prepare.
If everything goes well, we can go for a walk later. Maybe I’ll take a blanket. If Jenny sees this blanket, she might get the wrong idea. Then she’ll probably run away and there will be no taking that walk. He combed his hair. Why do I have these nerves? It’s not as if I’ve never gone out with a woman. He shook his head in disbelief. And I went out with many! Too many one-night stands, too many short-term relationships without deeper feelings … but this woman is Catherine’s best friend. Damn! I just have to tread carefully.
Devin drove up to her apartment. Jenny saw him from her window as he calmly walked around the car and leaned against the hood. Tall, athletic, with a cream shirt and black jeans. How perfectly he charmed me when we met at Catherine and Vincent’s Joining Ceremony. I loved his casual demeanor, charming smile, and playful eyes. He definitely saw my interest. He was polite and we even danced together but then … nothing … until now. For him it’s a friendly outing. For me something more.
Devin didn’t wait very long. He’d only had enough time to get out and lean on the hood when he saw her walking towards him. She looked so beautiful in that form-fitting dress, the sun shining on her curled hair, and her face lit up with a lovely smile. He was stunned and didn’t understand the impact this woman had on him. I have to control myself, inhale … exhale …
They hugged each other tightly.
“Jenny, you look phenomenal!”
“Thank you, Devin, you look great, too. It’s good to see you. I was really surprised by the invitation, but the exhibition seems interesting.”
“I thought it would be good for me to get out, too. There have been too many thoughts running through my head lately.”
“About Charles … I’m sorry. You did a lot for him.”
“Thanks, but I feel like it’s not enough. He suffered so much; it’s a pity that he enjoyed freedom for such a short time. I think by helping Charles I wanted to make up for the fact that I ran away and left Vincent behind, but, Jenny, I also think about other things that bother me.”
She smiled gently and touched his arm. “Vincent has already dealt with what happened between you two in the past. He’s with Catherine now, and I’ve never seen two people happier than they are, and as for the other matters … hmm … I hope you solve them.”
Devin nodded. “I’m really grateful for their happiness. They deserve it.” He smiled charmingly.
Jenny’s heart did a turn. She felt it would be difficult to pretend to be just his friend.
They stood in thought for a moment, not fully aware of their mutual influence on each other.
“Jenny, it’s nice talking, but let’s go or we’ll miss the exhibition.” He gestured toward the car.
They arrived at the museum on time. The exhibition was on the fifth floor in the European Department of the Gallery, and they were immediately drawn in by its diversity. They saw paintings by Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, Berthe Morisot, Pablo Picasso, and Francisco Ollera. The works depicted landscapes, ordinary people at work or in their leisure time, and activities at home, work and travel. Using colorful accents and broad strokes, the artists tried to convey the directness of optical impressions.
Their date passed in a pleasant atmosphere without any embarrassment.
“Devin, this exhibition encouraged me to see what is real and what is expressed by the artist. You can admire ideas about nature, gender, class.”
He saw the delight in Jenny’s eyes, the appreciation for the beautiful paintings, and he was also impressed. “I agree and felt it too. Have you noticed how landscapes became an important field of experimentation in the 19th century? Artists painted their own estates or famous regions, places of work and recreation. Look at this Normandy coast.”
“Wonderful! I have always liked the colors and it looks so realistic.”
They looked at each other and felt new, unexplored feelings flow through them.
“You didn’t expect me to like art?” He was curious about the answer.
“Honestly, I don’t think I imagined you at an art exhibition.”
“I have to ask about this – what impression do I make?”
Oh Devin, if you knew how much confusion you make in my heart. But, her answer was factual. “I see you sailing the sea, conquering mountains and frequenting clubs.”
He smiled gently. “It’s all true, but I also like art. When I was working in Kenya, I decided to see Pretoria. Once I visited the museum and admired South African art there. I saw paintings and African ceramics including beautiful bowls, platters and vases.”
“I’ve always liked those kinds of crafts. We share similar interests.” She looked at him with joy with her eyes.
Devin was delighted with her sincerity and girlish beauty. However, he chose to hide his enthusiasm and just nodded, mentally pleased that he had received these tickets. It was a good choice. We’ve had a really nice time together.
The tour was coming to an end, but Devin didn’t want to go back Below just yet. Not yet, I’m too comfortable with her. He began to consider asking her to go for a walk, thinking that she shouldn’t be against it.
Meanwhile, Jenny wondered if this was the end of their time together. They would leave the museum and he would take her home and still nothing. Show him, tell him … No! He knows how I feel. I haven’t managed to hide my interest very well. She frowned.
They calmly walked outside. Jenny bit her lip, thinking about whether to suggest something to extend their time together. She looked up at him and saw him staring at her lips.
He quickly looked up at the cloudless sky. “It certainly won’t rain. Maybe you’d like to see the most wonderful sunset?”
“You can be persuasive.” Her heart sang.
“I suppose so.” He smiled encouragingly.
Devin parked the car near Whitman Park. He took a blanket from the back seat.
“Jenny, how about that walk?”
“I’d love to.” She looked at the blanket with surprise.
A faint smile appeared on Devin’s face. At least she didn’t run away.
They walked leisurely along Cadman Plaza, then they turned around Clumber Corner. The silence wasn’t embarrassing; they felt comfortable around each other. They passed Anchorage Plaza and saw “Fulton Burger” in the distance.
“You read my mind, Devin.”
“I’d like that.” He smiled, turning his face towards her. “Do you like eating on the street?”
“Yes, it has its own charm.”
“How about the crispy fried chicken burger?”
“It sounds great. Let’s go there!”
They sat on a bench nearby and started eating.
“Either I’m so hungry or these are the best burgers I’ve ever eaten.” She was sincerely delighted.
“Or both!” They laughed at the same time.
“You’ve visited so many places and eaten different foods.”
“That’s true. Tibetan cuisine was filling for me, especially the thick soup with meat, vegetables and noodles. I also liked the bread stuffed with meat. African cuisine includes meat with exotic fruits and vegetables grown in various countries.”
“Did you have a favorite dish?”
“I really liked the traditional salad – boiled cabbage with white beans or chickpeas – and chicken marinated in ginger, curry, and coconut milk with mango and chili pepper sauce.”
Jenny smiled. “It sounds delicious.”
“It is really good food,” he agreed. “But again, it’s very filling, whereas French food is delicate and fancy. That was a nice change for me.”
“Have you eaten snails, too?”
“Yes, I have eaten them cooked as a starter and I don’t particularly like them.”
“I tried them in NY, but French food definitely tastes different in France.”
“Definitely.” He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. “Jenny, do you like traveling?”
“I like it a lot, but I’m sure that I’ve seen less than you.”
“You certainly think I’m a person who can’t stay in one place for long.”
She looked at him curiously.
“But that’s how I was. I don’t know. Maybe I still am. But the time spent with Charles in the mountains taught me I can have one job and live in one place and feel satisfied.”
Jenny looked at him, intrigued. “You seem so calm, at peace with yourself.”
“This is not entirely true, but I wonder what the future holds.” He looked at the sky. “Let’s go. It’ll be sunset soon.”
When they reached Brooklyn Bridge Park, they saw in the distance that several couples were sitting on the benches deep in conversation, lovers were walking, and nearby someone stole a kiss. The warm wind blew their hair. Colors of soft red began to adorn the sky.
Devin found the perfect place for them, a little distance from the others but a bit intimate … With a confident move, he spread the blanket. “Let’s sit down. We’ll have the best view from here.”
“Devin, you’re showing me your romantic side.”
“Because I also have this side and I don’t want to hide it.”
Jenny gave him a wide smile. “And rightly so. What about poetry?”
He laughed briefly. “That’s Vincent’s thing, but I like reading. The Old Man instilled that in us.”
“Reading is a wonderful way to escape to another world.”
Devin nodded and noticed it was another feature they had in common. It’s unbelievable how good I feel with her, or maybe I just haven’t been with a woman for a long time … Man, stop thinking altogether! He looked into her eyes with tenderness and seriousness … his fingers gently brushed her hand, and after a moment he put it to his lips.
Jenny stared at his mouth as if hypnotized. If you knew what your gestures do to me. “Devin …” she whispered.
Wanting to keep things calm but still let her know how he felt, he spoke from the heart. “You’re the one who makes me react like this.” He fanned her hand with his warm breath.
Jenny was enchanted by his actions. “I’m glad to hear it.” That was all she managed to say under the influence of her emotions.
Devin intertwined his fingers with hers and stared ahead with thoughtful eyes. Maybe it’s too much for a casual outing … and maybe this really is a date … How did this happen?
The magic of this meeting didn’t disappear at all, and the impulses that seemed too early, turned out to be expected. After a while they lay on a blanket, admiring the sunset over the Brooklyn Bridge. The sky sparkled with many colors; the view was delightful.
“Devin, we had a lovely afternoon … and to think if Zach hadn’t found that wallet, we wouldn’t have discovered how much we have in common.” She looked at him with captivating eyes and smiled encouragingly.
“If there had been any ID inside, then we couldn’t have taken advantage of those tickets to the Brooklyn Museum … and thanks to all these things, it started something extremely interesting, Jenny,” he whispered, bringing his mouth closer in a very gentle kiss.
The kiss continued, slowly, tenderly … They forgot about everything around them.
Devin touched her neck, stroked her back. Careful, there would be time later for other things …
Jenny buried her hands in his hair … she began to gently caress his ear …
Suddenly he pulled away from her mouth and looked into her eyes. She was dazed, her lips still drawing him in. “I’m sorry. It felt so right at the moment.” He whispered, touching his forehead to hers.
“Don’t apologize. What happened … I liked it.” I liked it a lot! Jenny couldn’t believe it all. Did we really kiss? She felt like a little girl who received a long-awaited toy. She wanted to jump, sing, dance …
Devin watched the play of emotions on her face for a moment. Joy, surprise, relief.
He realized that his feelings were the same. “I’m glad to hear it, because we have another date waiting for us.”
After saying these words he kissed her again …